LEWISTON, Maine — Substance use disorder carries a stigma in practically all communities. But for many new Mainers, especially those who are Muslims, that can be more difficult because Islam prohibits substance use consumption of any kind. A new nonprofit though is helping break down barriers to getting help.
Generation Noor in Lewiston works to help make treatment and services more accessible to immigrants of all generations. Noor means "light" in Arabic.
Amran Osman, a Somali immigrant who started the organization, vividly recalls the pain of losing her brother to an overdose in 2021. But the silence after his death was even more devastating.
"Nobody talks about it because it's forbidden in Islam, because there is a big stigma," Osman explained.
Those beliefs can include that addiction is shameful and that discussing mental health issues outside immediate families is strictly taboo.
"A lot of my peers were also struggling with substances and mental health, but nobody was really talking about it," Osman added.
Osman was born in Kenya after her family fled from war-torn Somalia, settling in Lewiston when she was 3 years old.
Studies have shown that Muslims living in Western cultures are more likely to have addiction issues than those in Muslim-majority populations. Immigrants can also experience limited access to mental health services to the general population.
After Amran graduated from the University of Southern Maine, she wanted to break down barriers to treatment for new Mainers.
"A lot of people were wanting help, but they didn't know how to ask for help or get help. That's why I wanted to start these conversations," Amran said.
Last year she launched the nonprofit and started holding roundtable discussions in Lewiston and Portland at Gateway Community Services, where she serves as a community resources coordinator. Over time these transparent conversations about mental health, addiction, and treatment have helped the healing process.
"Their walls go down, and they are able to have these conversations, as they get to know each other and are able to understand it's a safe space," Osman said.
Generational Noor has gone from four to 27 volunteers, supported by a board ranging from university students to health professionals like Eisha Kahn.
Kahn, who is originally from Pakistan, is a program manager for oncology services at Maine Health. She said the nonprofit is working to translate mental health resources into more languages, expanding telehealth services, a model that could go statewide.
"Can we replicate it and customize it to Bangor and other areas not only immigrant populations but diverse populations that can benefit from these services?" Kahn said.
Amran's efforts have landed her on a recent cover of Journey magazine, a free publication created by people in recovery. She said destigmatizing recovery in Maine's growing immigrant community is a key step toward making existing resources and flyers with information more accessible, multilingual, and culturally appropriate for future generations.
"Would this be able to be put in a mosque? Would this be able to be put in stores?" Osman added.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, the 2-1-1 crisis hotline is available. Or reach out to NAMI Maine for more information.
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